This is an edited version of Rev. Kate’s sermon from the stewardship kick-off on Sunday.
Sometimes I suspect that the people who put together our lectionary (the rotation of scripture readings we have on Sunday mornings) know when it’s stewardship season. It always seems that all the Gospel stories in October are Jesus talking about money. Of course, Jesus did talk about money quite a bit — he seems to think that how we use our money is a key part of our spiritual health and life — so perhaps it’s just hard to avoid. But, when we take a closer look, I’m not sure if this Gospel passage we have today, “give to the emperor the things that are the emperors, and give to God the things that are God’s”, is really about money per se.
Because the whole thing is a set-up. They are asking him a question that no matter what he answered he was bound to upset someone. They ask him in a public place where both Jewish crowds and Roman soldiers are gathered. If he says pay the tax, then the crowds will likely reject or even attack him. If he says don’t pay the tax, the Romans will likely arrest him. Either way, his questioners have achieved their purpose of getting this pesky prophet who threatens to undermine the status quo out of the way.
But Jesus doesn’t give them the answers they are looking for. He makes the question theological, not political. Our translation says he asks, “whose head is this, and whose title.” But that’s not a good translation, he actually says whose image is this. Whose image was this coin created in? And they say, the emperor’s of course. So he says, then give it to the emperor. And to God, give the things that are God’s.
You see where this is going, right? The coin is made in the emperor’s image. What is made in God’s image? You and me. Human beings are made in God’s image. Creation is made in God’s image. Sure, give this little coin to the emperor if he wants it so badly. But your body, your soul, your very life, you own to God who has created you in God’s image. Everything, everything belongs to God because God’s the one who made the whole creation.
So this parable may not really be about money or taxes, because Jesus doesn’t answer that question at all, but I think it is very much about stewardship. We belong to God. All our gifts and abilities, all that we’re able to do and think and feel and make and create, is because God gave us those abilities. All the blessings in our life come from God. So, as we approach this year’s stewardship season, perhaps the question is not so much, what percent of my earnings do I want to give away, do I give 5% or 10% this year, but the question is what do I do with the 100% that God has given me, am I using it all in ways that God wants me to? Am I being a good steward of what God has given me?
This has been a hard year. So much is different, and this amount of change is truly hard. For one thing, it takes more commitment and effort to participate in church, to be part of the church community, when we can’t just do our default of showing up at this building on Sunday. And I have to say, it’s absolutely amazing how you all have completely risen to the challenge: teaching youth group on zoom, creating the Atrium online, having choir practice by sharing recordings and putting together music for Sunday, your vestry meeting on zoom each month to carefully think through the needs of the congregation, the pastoral care team making literally hundreds of phone calls over the last 6 months to keep us all connected. The Regathering Team has worked scores of hours on hundreds of tiny details with all of our tenants like the Food Pantry, Lex Eat Together, and AA to make sure those life-sustaining ministries can continue safely. The mission committee has been reaching out to our mission partners to see how the pandemic is affecting them and how we can help. The book club and listening hour groups are praying together online each week and EfM is continuing to study the Bible and learn together on Zoom. Our liturgy team and acolytes have figured out how to do the readings and lead worship in zoom, the altar guild comes faithfully each week to set up the altar in an empty church, and of course I can’t say enough about our tech team making our worship services possible.
Nothing about this is normal, in no situation was a committee or ministry able to say, “let’s just do it the same way we did it last year.” Every single thing had to be figured out in a new way, and you did it! Even just worshipping on Sunday has taken more intention and effort as you really have to think about how you participate without getting to see the cues of the people next to you. It’s amazing and inspiring and wonderful to see how this community continues to be so committed to each other, to be there for each other, to show up and do God’s work and worship and learn and grow despite all these challenges.
So it should come as no surprise to you that, as you pray through how to be a good steward with 100% of what God has given you, I think Redeemer is a community worth supporting with your financial gift as well. It is your financial gifts that bought the new camera I am talking into right now, that helps keep our building open so that the Food Pantry can serve the many new clients they are getting during this economic downturn, that keep our Memorial Garden maintained as a place for meaningful funerals that we’ve had too many of in the last couple of weeks. Your gifts help us give some extra support to the Esperanza School and Grow Clinic who are also struggling to serve their communities in the pandemic, and, these days, your gifts that pay for the Zoom account, too.
God assures us that this too shall pass, the pandemic won’t last forever. I don’t know about Christmas, and I don’t want to think about Easter yet, but from what I’ve heard Dr. Fauci say, it seems like we can look forward, God willing, to next September being all together back in our sanctuary. We’ll have Atrium and coffee hour and choir together in person again. And we’ll get through until then just fine, doing all the wonderful things you are doing — but not without your support.
So maybe this Gospel story is not about money. But it is about stewardship. When we say this much is for Caesar, this much is for God, this much is for me, then maybe we’re going about it the wrong way. Jesus says, pay your taxes to whoever rules you. But make sure you aren’t ruled by money. Jesus knows that when we are good stewards, when we think of 100% of what we have as gifts from God that should be used for God’s good purposes, then we will find that we get out of things what we put into them. The benefits of giving are immense. That’s the gift that our fall stewardship drive gives us. To take a closer, prayerful look at our church finances and our personal finances and say, “God, what is it that you want me to be doing with the resources you’ve given me?” And when we live that way, from that perspective, knowing that we are made in God’s image, beloved of God, and all we have comes from God, we find that that way of living, the Jesus way, is life-giving and fulfilling.
All things come from you, O Lord. And of your own have we given you.